The O’Hea, Hay, or Hughes Family

O’Hea, Hay, or Hughes family crest

(Crest No. 318. Plate 42.)

THIS family, whose name is variously written Hea, Hay, Hayes, and Hughes, is descended from Milesius, King of Spain, through the line of his son Heber. The founder of the family was Cormac Cas, son of Olliol Ollum, King of Munster, A. D. 177, and his consort, Sabia, daughter of Con Kead Caha, or Con of the Hundred Battles, King of Ireland, A. D. 148. The ancient name was Ease and signifies “Old.” The possessions of the sept were located in the present Counties of Cork, Limerick, and Meath.

In the last-mentioned county the O’Hayes, or O’Hughes, were Chiefs of Odhbha (probably Odra or Oddor, in the barony of Skrine, near Tara). The O’Hayes, or O’Hughes, were also Chiefs of Fearnmhoighe, or Fernmoy, a district in the County Down, on the borders of Antrim, in the barony of Lower Iveagh. There were other chiefs and clans of this name in Mayo and Sligo, and the O’Hughes were Chiefs of Esruadh, now Ballyshannon, in the barony of Tir Hugh, in the County of Donegal.

The same family were Lords of Tuath-Luirg and Ui-Fiachrach-Ard-stratha. The territory of Tuath-Luirg is the barony of Lurg, in the County of Fermanagh, and the territory of the Ui-Fiach-rach of Ard-stratha extended from the northeast boundary of this barony to the River Mourne, in the County of Tyrone. The name—in Irish O’Haedha—is very common throughout the province of Ulster, where it is Anglicized Hughes. In the south of Ireland it is variously Anglicized O’Hea, O’Hee, O’Hay, and Hayes.

The late John Hughes, first Archbishop of New York, was of the northern branch of this family. He was one of the greatest prelates of the Church in America. He succeeded in having the existing school system modified in favor of Catholics and he afterward laid the permanent foundation of the parochial-school system. He was the recognized exponent of Catholic thought in his day and the organization and extension of the Church, not only in New York, but throughout the United States, was largely due to his energy and statesmanlike ability. By his firmness and decision during the Know-Nothing outbreak, he saved New York from murder and arson, and in 1863 he materially assisted in quelling the draft riots. At the outbreak of the Mexican War he was requested by the United States Government to accept a diplomatic appointment with a view of bringing about a restoration of peace, and during the Civil War he was sent to Europe by the Government on a diplomatic mission to counteract the unfriendly feelings that had been excited by Confederate emissaries in certain European cabinets, especially that of France.

Archbishop Hughes was always a stanch advocate of Irish nationality and at a meeting in New York, in 1848, for the purpose of raising funds he said: “I attend to show that in my conscience I have no scruple in aiding this cause in every way worthy a patriot and a Christian. My contribution shall be for a shield, not for a sword,” he added, “but you can contribute for what you choose.”

No man ever exercised a deeper or wider influence on the Catholic Church and the Catholic mind in the United States, and this influence was gained without seeking it, held without effort, acknowledged, and used only for the highest purposes.